Fashion and Cars – exploring common grounds in class

Have you ever proposed to your students to explore an uncommon topic? Or combine two topics that seem to have nothing in common at all? What did the students think about the approach?

I am asking you this because in June, I brought up a slightly unusual topic in class: Fashion and cars. At first, it seemed that the two subjects are hardly connected to each other so we set out to explore them. The results were quite fascinating and I would like to share a brief summary of them with you today, because whether you look at design, marketing strategy or the environmental impact, cars and fashion actually do have many parallels.


Image source here.

First of all there is a phenomenon called “car culture” which – to sum it up in a sentence – is the cultural impact cars had on society once they became mass marketed. This influence permeated the way we shop (i.e. big malls), where we work (i.e. commuting to and from suburbs) and how a car became a status and power symbol, at first mostly for men. This car culture triggered a myriad of advertising showing sexy and fashionable women and created fashion outfits to be used when driving such as the original Car Shoe and its many clones.

Car shoe for Lamborghini's 50th anniversary

Car shoe for Lamborghini’s 50th anniversary

Image source here.

When the Mini became Britain’s flagship car, it simultaneously became synonymous with cultural movements powered by Twiggy, the Beatles and the swinging sixties.

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the "Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini."

The first Mini rolled off the production line in the late fifites but became as synonymous with the “Swinging Sixties as the other, head-turning mini.”

Image source here.


Secondly, todays marketing strategy for cars includes being fashionable. Car-makers want to be associated with glamour which is why they sponsor many fashion weeks (Mercedes hosts several around the world) and even delve into bridal wear (BMW sponsors the BMW India bridal fashion week).

3 Image source here.


Futhermore, there have been dozens of collaborations of designers and car manufacturers, where an unusual and fashionable exterior and/or interior has been created. One reason that car makers want to infiltrate the fashion market is perhaps the fact that car sales are declining in the saturated markets of the USA and Europe, whilst equally growing in China, India and other Asian countries. Incidentally, for many (high-) fashion brands these are equally important emerging markets.

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Chanel Fiole Concept Car 2014

Image source here.

A third area where cars meet fashion is on the subject of sustainability. Years and years have passed where the global topic of sustainability and environmental impacts of industrialized nations have been discussed. People around the world increasingly care more about where their products came from and whether they harm the environment. The new trend in cars is to create hybrids or electric cars which consume less energy which feature new and light composite materials. Smart technology is integrated to help the driver have a more personalised experience and navigate more easily to service points (i.e. to charge the battery). Does this sound familiar? I believe it does, because fashion technology thinks along very similar lines nowadays. And the foundation for both – cars and clothes – is the textile industry, which creates smart textiles to be used for the automotive and apparel sectors.

Want-a-Green-Machine-Ten-2014-Hybrid-Cars-with-Pros-and-Cons-MainPhoto Image source here.

My students found it a bit difficult at first to delve into a topic so far away from fashion, but once the research was complete and they presented it in class, they were excited about their findings.

Should you be interested in exploring this topic some more, I can highly recommend a new marketing-savvy book entitled “Auto Brand: Building Successful Car Brands for the Future” by Dr. Anders Parment. There is a chapter on car culture, fashion, and lots of research about the strategies of car brands. A second interesting book is called “Autopia: Cars and Culture” by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr and takes a more artistic approach of the subject.

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